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Established 1999
A Wesleyan-Anglican Church in Boise, Idaho

Pilgrimages

An English Pilgrimage

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Entry 16, Wednesday, Third Week of Advent:
London, City Road and Margaret Street: A Time of Aridity

Almighty and everlasting God, who alone works great marvels, send down upon all ministers of your Gospel the healthful Spirit of your grace. And, that they may truly please You, pour upon them the continual dew of your blessing. Grant this, O Lord, for the honor of our Advocate and Mediator, Jesus Christ. Amen.
- Adapted from John Wesley's Order for Morning Prayer

I visit City Road to see John Wesley's chapel and house.

The reason the chapel and house were built in the first place was because the leasehold interest by which John Wesley and his people were using what they called "the Foundery" was expiring, and the Foundery building was going to be replaced by a residential development. That meant that new quarters for Wesley's ministry had to be found, and the property they chose was on London's City Road.

On City Road, John Wesley's Chapel (center) and house (right).
On City Road, John Wesley's Chapel (center) and house (right).

John Wesley oversaw the planning for the chapel and the fund-raising effort for it. He preached at its opening service on All Saints Day, 1778. (A local newspaper said he opened his sermon by criticizing the elaborate hats worn by women in the congregation, but his own journal doesn't mention that.)

Even with the new chapel, he continued to view Methodism as an adjunct to Anglicanism, and he continued to insist that Methodist services not conflict with Anglican ones.

His continuing Anglicanism may have played a part in the decision of King George III to donate ships' masts from a British naval dockyard, to be used as pillars to support the roof of Wesley's chapel.

His continuing Anglicanism accounts, as well, for the centrally placed pulpit in the chapel; the pulpit was given that position not because Wesley believed preaching to be the core of worship-he didn't-but because the chapel's purpose was for preaching rather than for Holy Communion, for which he wanted the Methodists to go to the Church of England. (The altar that is in front of the pulpit is a post-Wesley addition.) Communion was served at City Road, however, more and more so as the gap between the Church of England and the Methodists widened.

Wesley described the chapel as "perfectly neat, but not fine". It is indeed a beautiful chapel, but that beauty includes some additions after Wesley's time, notably including the stained-glass windows.

I'm especially pleased to see Charles Wesley's single-manual organ, still operable in the "Foundery Chapel", a side chapel that is entered from the vestibule of John Wesley's chapel.

As my volunteer guide escorts me from the chapel to John Wesley's tomb behind the chapel, he asks me about my church in America. Being a long-time committed Methodist, he seems both surprised and just slightly taken back by the idea of a church that is both Wesleyan and Anglican.

A modern office building looms close over John Wesley's tomb
A modern office building looms close over John Wesley's tomb.

He shows me the tomb, and now it's my turn to be taken back: the Wesley tomb, and the small number of others there, are abruptly confronted by a modern glass-walled office building which projects over the air space above some of the tombs-placing them in full-time gloominess-and looms menacingly on two sides of the Wesley tomb. The juxtaposition is unpleasant, but I expect that the sale of the air rights provided much-needed funds.

My guide volunteers the opinion that, in America, Epworth Chapel on the Green will be able to grow. He says, with obvious sadness, that Christian churches are declining in Britain, and he says that the Methodist Church is declining as much as any of them are.

I'm then escorted next door to John Wesley's house, into which he moved 12 months after the chapel opened, and in which he spent his last 12 winters. Some of the artifacts and features are quite impressive, including the bed on which he died, the sparse and private prayer room adjoining his bedroom, his traveling cloak, his shoes (oh, how he might have benefited from today's walking shoes!)-and most impressive of all for me, the Communion chalice he took with him when he traveled, in its fitted leather case. Such importance he gave to being able to commune frequently, every week!

I go downstairs below the chapel, to the museum shop, and cross paths with the other two visitors who are present at the time I am. (I overhear one of the volunteer workers say to another, "It's busier than I thought it'd be today.") I proceed to purchase some items, and while doing so I have the undivided attention and assistance of all three of the volunteers.

I know it's an incomplete picture, but as I leave I do so with some of the sadness my guide showed. There is such a sense of the past tense about the place, and too little of the optimism that characterized John Wesley. The imposition of the office building above the tombs seems symbolic.

That sense is reinforced by the change immediately outside the gate of the property; there, too, one confronts London, noisily surrounding and seeming to want to take even this remaining bit of the Wesley heritage. (I repeat, I know that's an incomplete picture, but it's my feeling of the moment.)

We attend evening prayers at All Saints Margaret Street, and remain for daily Holy Eucharist, almost immediately following. All Saints Margaret Street is reputed to be the highest of the high churches in England. It is notable because of its association with the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement of the 19th century, and its building incorporates that Movement's principles. (The cornerstone was laid on All Saints Day in 1850 by Edward Pusey, a leader of the Oxford Movement.)

The building was designed by William Butterfield, who designed the chapel at Keble College, Oxford. Consequently, the building's style is a Victorian-Byzantine mix, the former especially evident in the patterned brickwork and marble work and the latter in the mosaics which use many of the inside surfaces to portray events and persons of biblical and Christian history.

The singularly striking moment for me, though, occurs as the priest, during the prayers, asks that God will sustain and encourage the clergy of the Christian Church, during "a time of aridity".

That phrase captures much of London today: a spiritual desert. Yes, there are oases, but not even all of London's rain is making its spiritual garden grow.

I wonder whether the substantial gap that exists between the evangelical church and the high church, so to speak, may be a considerable reason. Within the Church of England itself, the seminaries which once prepared its clergy in either or both the evangelical pattern and the high-church pattern have closed, so that now the clergy must choose a seminary in only one approach or the other. The dichotomy is even greater outside the Church of England, and clergy who some years after seminary sense a divine urging to draw upon the other "side" are pretty much stuck, whatever God's will in the matter might be.

I wonder, too, whether revival and enrichment in the Church and in the ministry could be enabled, if the two sides could respect and trust each other-but the institutional barriers are high.

That integration of evangelism and the high church, accompanied by daily living in "vital piety", was Wesley's intention for the Church of England. He never meant for there to be a "Wesleyan" theological position that wasn't also an Anglican position. Maybe if that integration were to happen, London's spiritual desert really would "blossom as the rose". (Isaiah 35:1, KJV)

"Watch o'er your Church, O Lord,
in mercy, save it from evil, guard it still;
perfect it in your love, unite it,
cleansed and conformed unto your will.
As grain, once scattered on the hillsides,
was in this broken bread made one,
so from all lands your Church be gathered
into your kingdom by your son."
- F. Bland Tucker, 1939, and others, based on prayers in the Didache, 2nd century

- Christopher

Theme Verse

Luke 1:78-79

Scripture Lessons

Dec 17: Isaiah 65:17-25, Psalm 126, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28, John 1:6-8, 19-28

Dec 10: Isaiah 40:1-11, Psalm 85:7-13, 2 Peter 3:8-18, Mark 1:1-8

Prayer Emphases

Nation: Tunisia

Denomination: Pentecostal Church of God

Congregation: Epiphany Fellowship, Camden, NJ, and the Rev. Doug Logan

Ministry: World Alliance of Reformed Churches

Parishioners: Those living on Lubkin Street

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